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Published: Wednesday, 7/3/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Bell petition helper broke city policy, union claims

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Kelly Debruyn stood in the rain Monday outside Toledo's sewer and drainage services department with a pen and clipboard, collecting signatures for her boss - Mayor Mike Bell.

Ms. Debruyn, a 13-year veteran of the city and the manager of sewer and drainage services, had never before collected signatures for a candidate but felt compelled to do so for the first time this week.

"I very much believe in him," she said, noting she was off-duty at the time. "He has been a great leader."

But Don Czerniak, president of service workers union AFSCME Local 7 - the city’s largest union with 900 employees - said Ms. Debruyn held up employees trying to leave after their shifts and that she also violated city policy by collecting campaign signatures on city property.

Mr. Debruyn and Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat contend the union boss is mistaken and security video proves that. Mr. Czerniak, whose union has endorsed mayoral candidate Anita Lopez, is waiting to see the security footage that he thinks will verify what his members told him.

The footage, which was viewed by The Blade Tuesday, shows Ms. Debruyn, clad in a yellow raincoat, standing outside for 15 minutes. As vehicles exit the facility gate, she is seen talking to some drivers. While some sign the mayor's petitions, the line of vehicles leaving the facility backs up for a short period. By the end, she collected 12 signatures.

Ms. Debruyn said she was outside the gate at 4032 Creekside Ave. and off city property beginning at about 3:24 p.m. - which is after hours since the shift starts at 7 a.m.

"Those who wanted to sign, signed and those who didn't, drove right right past me," she said. "Most of them didn't know what I was doing. They asked what I was doing."

City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said Ms. Debruyn did not violate city policy and did not require city employees to stop.

Mayoral candidates need 750 valid signatures, from registered Toledo voters, before the filing deadline of July 12. Other top Bell administrators have been out collecting for Mr. Bell, including Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat and Ms. Sorgenfrei. Human Resources Director Ellen Grachek was with Ms. Sorgenfrei while she collected signatures.

"I believe in the mayor," Mr. Herwat said. "I think he has moved this city forward, he has a proven track record. He walked in the door with a $48 million deficit and we now have $5 million fund balance in the general fund."

Mr. Bell said his signatures are being gathered by volunteers. 

"I have been advised not to do that myself," he said.

In addition to Ms. Lopez, who is he Lucas County auditor, the mayor is being challenged by Councilmen Joe McNamara and D. Michael Collins, among others.

Mr. McNamara challenged his opponents earlier this year to sign an ethics pledge to not accept contributions from government workers over whom they have the power to hire and fire. He also said he would refuse to accept the campaign help of any government worker during regular business hours, even if they take vacation and break time to do political work.

He questioned if Bell administration officials were really volunteering or if they felt pressured to help their boss.

None of the other candidates signed Mr. McNamara's pledge.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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